Hopefully, a meal with parents and children at the table together.
Kate Selner has a 17-year old son, so she knows that witty banter doesn't always fly around the table at mealtime.
"There will be some nights when Griffin may not talk to us for 15 minutes," said Selner, who lives in Lino Lakes with her son and husband, Mike. "There might not be life-changing conversation happening at the dinner table, but we're taking the time and connecting over a plate of simple food."
Sept. 26 marks the 10th anniversary of Family Day: A Day to Eat Dinner With Your Family, launched by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. According to the center's research, kids who eat meals more frequently with their parents are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. They are also more likely to do well in school and have better self-esteem.
Are parents heeding the message about the importance of gathering the family together for a meal at least a few times per week? Family meals do seem to be a priority for many families, says Gene Roehlkepartain, executive vice president for Search Institute in Minneapolis.
"Parents want to spend more time with their kids," he said. "They know it is important and that it matters."
In 2010, Search Institute surveyed 89,000 kids nationally in grades six through 12 on the subject of family meals; 46 percent reported they eat five or more meals with their families each week while 24 percent said they ate once per week (or less) with their families.
Spending time together in an informal way around the table can lead to many longterm benefits for kids, said Roehlkepartain.
"Children develop a sense of family support and an understanding that their family cares about them," he said. "It is also a chance for them to see their parents being 'people' as they all engage in conversation. Even very young children can benefit by listening to discussion between adults. Hearing words and concepts is an important part of language development."
Turn off the phone
While it used to be the television that distracted families from quality dinner table discussion, now it's the cellphone, which often makes its presence known at the table with both kids and parents, although some kids would say parents are the bigger offenders.
"There is research we have seen that shows kids think their parents are too 'wired,'" said Roehlkepartain. "Setting an expectation that everyone turn off the cellphone during meals can help create a positive atmosphere and the opportunity for communication."
Another message about the value of family meals focuses on making healthier food choices -- a message that also appears to be resonating, according to Mary Schroeder, a health and nutrition educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Office.
"Families that make a point of eating together are also more apt to add fruits and vegetables to the meal," she said.
Schroeder works with the U's Simply Good Eating program, which offers classes to low-income families on topics such as better nutrition, meal planning and grocery shopping. She said some parents perceive their lack of cooking skills as a stumbling block to making meals for their families, but there are many resources readily available for beginners of all ages.
"Start with a nice, basic cookbook or look for simple recipes online," she said. "If you're cooking with children, find a children's cookbook at the library. That way, you can learn cooking skills right along with your child."
Selner, author of the "Kate in the Kitchen" blog that focuses on healthy eating and cooking, said the proliferation of farmers markets and greater availability of local foods has made it even easier for families to eat healthy meals together.
"Many younger families I know are focusing on choosing fresh foods and getting kids involved in the process of planning and making meals," she said. "Griffin really enjoys cooking now -- every once in a while, he'll even make dinner for us."